THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, 1.4 (TV Review)

BBC One – 19th July 2016 – 9pm

Written by: Robert Murphy

Series created by: Ashley Pharoah

Directed by: Sam Donovan


 

SECRET FLOWER OF THE FOREST

“The past is dead, and the dead are dead.”

Never a less convincing word is spoken by Victorian psychologist and spiritual-dabbler Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan), who is attempting to reassure his pregnant wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) after witnessing the roaming spirit of a murdered villager at the close of this fourth episode in BBC One’s progressive supernatural period drama.

Despite being written and directed by different crew, tonight’s latest instalment is better than any previous episode at effortlessly continuing the series narrative without making the connection to previous parts feel laboured and forcefully inserted for continuity purposes. This felt like the conclusion of a two-parter.

Having been banished for his violent attempt to cleanse Shepzoy of its “witch” last week week, former farmhand Jack Langtree (Joel Gilman) is this week accused of attacking traumatised school teacher Martha Enderley (Nina Forever‘s Fiona O’Shaughnessy) while living rough in Elmwood Forest. But can Martha’s wide-eyed ramblings be believed, or is she more connected to the disappearance of her friend Alice Wharton (Gina Bramhill) than she is letting on?

“Your mind is denying us access to your memories…”

Donning a Rick Grimes-esque Stetson and attempting to put his personal malaise to one side, all-round go-to-guy Nathan adds lawman, detective and autopsy-deliverer to his growing repertoire of skills, returning to the mist-shrouded scene of the crime in an attempt to save Alice and apprehend Jack.

Behind the lens, Sam Donovan incorporates a wealth of dizzying aerial tracking shots of the gorgeous natural woodland, paralleling the scale and warmth of red autumnal foliage with the stark and claustrophobic greys of the cold Shepzoy dwellings. Pronounced angles and focus pulls also help immerse the viewer and increase the ominous and ethereal atmosphere which has been so strong throughout The Living and the Dead.

Once more Nathan’s haunting bereavement is kept to the outskirts – teased deliciously in a Ouija board prologue but then essentially back-benched once again. I sense this frustrating drawn out approach will be a common occurrence until his dead son is brought front and centre in an episode all his own at the tail-end of the six-part series.

Modernity again rears its head into the traditional Somerset community, with Llama’s proclaimed as the “future of farming” and an eventual innate confession capping-off what would have been a rather predictable and average murder mystery with a passionate explosion of pent-up alienation which the twenty-first century can relate to with more open-minded understanding than ever before.

“All my life I’ve felt different…”

Had the episode finished there, it would have been a passably adept hour of eerie entertainment, three CR@B’s out of five. However, the final shot pans to a truly jaw-dropping rug-pull reveal which corroborated an earlier question lingering in the back of my mind concerning a potential anachronism. Frankly, it blew my mind. Suspicions and curiosity well and truly running rampant, I am thankful for the innovative Beeb’s iPlayer boxset approach which means I don’t have to wait seven excruciating days to have my theories laid to rest. “That way madness lies…”

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

Advertisements

Nina Forever (Blu-ray Review)

18 – 98mins – 2015


THE LOVER AFTER ME

“Oh God, not again!” are the first strangulated words out of a bloodied and bent Nina’s (Fiona O’Shaughnessy) plasma-packed mouth after her ghost-white corpse materialises out of the sheets of her former boyfriend Rob’s (Cian Barry) bed, whilst he is mid-coitus with his new girlfriend, Holly (Abigail Hardingham).

And thus the morbid and surreal scene is set for first-time writer-and-director duo Ben and Chris Blaine’s Kickstarter-funded metaphor for love, loss, grief and moving on. In synopsis, Nina Forever reads like a British take on recent Stateside zom-com’s Life After Beth (2014) and Burying The Ex (2015), however the tone here is far darker, more sombre and more explicit.

In fact, the pervading sense of melancholic lethargy which lingers over “sexy, suicidal guy” Rob in the time since the love of his life died in a road accident at just 28, causing him to pack in his promising post Phd career for a brainless, shelf-stacking shop-floor existence, seeps into the very fabric of this washed out, slow moving film, giving many of the tense and awkward early interactions a similar feel to “Sainsbury’s boob film” Cashback (2006).

Neither Rob nor Holly scream hysterically or seem overtly freaked out by the monstrously impossible threesome they find themselves in the middle of. In fact, as Nina continues to reappear like a ghoulish elephant in the bed every time copulation is on the cards, neither has the nous to suggest either telling a single other person, getting professional help or simply moving the action to Holly’s student digs instead!

It’s a daring and hard-hitting visualisation of Rob’s conflicted conscience – he doesn’t want to forget his ex, but how can he move on if she is still such a tangible part of his everyday life? – however, as Rob and Holly’s troubled relationship tries to overcome the weirdness of their situation (at one point Holly starts to futilely masturbate Nina because she “wants to make [her] happy”) with the frequent binning and buying of new sheets every morning, the film does start to feel a little one note.

Even when the sun is out, Nina Forever feels caked in a hard-to-eradicate grime; the characters in desperate need of a good shake. When, finally, Nina’s eggshell-walking father (David Troughton) breaks out of his despair to raise his voice at a numb Rob, I was glad of the variation in volume. Likewise, the eventual revelation that “dark” girl Holly needs someone to fix is welcome progress, but I’m not sure it validated nearly ninety minutes of foreplay.

In a CR@B Shell: A startling and bold debut, perfectly substituting gore as a metaphor for grief, however I can’t help but feel that this sluggish and repetitive meditation would have been far punchier as a short film.

3 stars